The Packers have to be feeling good about winning their last two games against the Dallas Cowboys and San Francisco 49ers, but they also received equally bad news when it was revealed that starters Aaron Kampman and Al Harris would miss the rest of the season with torn ACL’s.
Not that injuries ever come at a good time, but the news came at a terrible time for a Packers defense that, after a poor showing against Minnesota and Tampa Bay, had strung together two solid performances before Harris and Kampman went down.
Both players went down on seemingly freak accidents where neither were involved in the play and, in Harris’s case, 30 yards away from the play. It was a “here we go again” moment for the Packers defense, who up to this point had avoided major injury from their defense. Last season, Cullen Jenkins, Nick Barnett, Atari Bigby, and Harris all missed time with injuries, leading to a 22nd ranked defense.
In a season where the Packers had continued to become more comfortable as each game passed in the new 3-4 defense, new personnel will now have to step on the field and become acclimated even faster.
The two players most affected by the injuries are certainly cornerback Tramon Williams and outside linebacker Brad Jones. Williams, the fourth year nickelback from Louisiana Tech was the heir to Al Harris or Charles Woodson once either of them decided to hang the cleats up, but his number has been called earlier than he expected and he should to be up to task.
More than the cornerback duo and safety combo of Nick Collins and Bigby, Green Bay’s secondary was considered one of the best in the league because teams faced three starting cornerbacks when they went with three wideouts. Williams was the reason why. At 27, Williams is in the prime of his career and is arguably the Packers’ best bump n’ run cornerback.
The drop-off from Harris to Williams will not hurt the Packers exponentially, but the real problem is the lack of depth the Packers now have in the nickel and dime spots. With Williams moving up to the starting role, one of Jarrett Bush or Brandon Underwood will take over the third cornerback role. Both are liabilities but have shown flashes of being able to get the job done. Brandon Chillar coming back in a few weeks will help the cause and newly signed Josh Bell could compete as well.
At the outside linebacker spot, rookie Brad Jones will likely step in for Kampman. Jones, a seventh round selection out of Colorado, started against the Cowboy as Kampman was unable to go with a concussion. He played well and finished the game with seven tackles and also racked up two tackles after subbing in for Kampman against San Francisco.
It is still a step down from Kampman, but Jones did a fine job getting after the quarterback and his speed will help in the pass defense more than Kampman would have.
The Packers’ first test will come tomorrow against the Lions, and while no game should ever be overlooked (see Tampa Bay), it will help the Packers work their new starters into the defense. After that, the defense will have 11 days to figure out what is going to work and what needs to happen for the Packers to have continued success without two of their best defenders.
Replacing 92 tackles and two veterans in a span of four days will be no easy task for Dom Capers and the Packers’ defense, but both Williams and Jones have been on the field for a good amount of time already and have both started a game. It is definitely something to look for in tomorrow’s game, regardless of the opponent.
Cullen Jenkins: Jenkins started the season off on fire, with two sacks and eight tackles in the first two games, but he has been non-existent the last two games. His big mouth hasn’t helped him get anywhere, either. GRADE: B
Johnny Jolly: Look past the personal foul call on Jolly for two seconds and you will see that he has been one of our better linemen this season. Very good in the run game and has gotten the job done for the most part, despite struggling the last few weeks (like everyone). GRADE: B
Ryan Pickett: The best player on the Packers’ defense this season not named Charles Woodson. It will be interesting to see what Ted Thompson does next season with Pickett’s contract up and B.J. Raji waiting in the wings, but he might warrant another contract. GRADE: B+
Jarius Wynn: The rookie from Georgia has played better than most thought he would and seems like he could be a solid back-up for quite some time. GRADE: INC
Michael Montgomery: One of the many players on defense who are probably better suited for the 4-3 defense, Montgomery has failed to make an impact this season after posting a decent 2008. GRADE: D-
B.J. Raji: Due to the play of Pickett on the inside, Raji has not seen the field much. His ongoing ankle has had something to do with this as well, so hopefully he will come back fully healthy in 2010. GRADE: C-
Clay Matthews III: Saving the best for first, Matthews has been very good this season and seems like a keeper at the right outside linebacker. GRADE: B+
Nick Barnett: Barnett probably came back too early from his knee surgery and was not healthy at the beginning of the season, but he has picked it up as of late. GRADE: C+
A.J. Hawk: A dismal start to the season from the former 5th overall selection, but he has also picked it up lately and is second on the team in tackles. GRADE: C
Aaron Kampman: Clearly frustrated with the 3-4 defense, Kampman has done his best to keep his mouth shut and continue playing. His play has not been all that bad, especially when he is allowed to have this hand in the dirt. GRADE: B-
Brady Poppinga: Maybe it’s just that I wanted Matthews to start all along, but I never liked what Poppinga did at outside linebacker and am glad he is gone. GRADE: D
Brandon Chillar: Very close to Matthews for the award of best linebacker, Chillar saw some looks at safety in the “Big Okie” package and played very well. A broken hand will keep him out a while. GRADE: B
Desmond Bishop: The pre-season Hall of Famer has fared well on the field thus far, but makes too many mistakes to constantly be on the field as an ILB in the 3-4. GRADE: C
Brad Jones: The seventh rounder might see time on the field this week due to Kampman’s concussion, but he has done a good job on special teams thus far. GRADE: INC
Jeremy Thompson: I’ll raise my hand and say I was dead wrong on Thompson becoming a stud in the 3-4 defense. He has shown to be too slow but might also see reps this week with Kampman probably out. GRADE: D-
Charles Woodson: What more can you say about Woodson other than that he is a probable Pro Bowler and a great player stuck on a good defense. GRADE: A-
Al Harris: His stock has taken a tumble this season as he seems a bit slower than last year. Hopefully he can turn it around soon or it could be his last season in Green Bay. GRADE: B-
Tramon Williams: A personal favorite of mine, Williams plays with great tenacity and seems to have the most excitement of anyone on the field. A future starter for sure. GRADE: B
Brandon Underwood: Definitely a project this season, but if Pat Lee does not work out he might get his chance as a dime back in the future. GRADE: INC
Jarrett Bush: Nothing to say here. GRADE: F
Atari Bigby: Bigby has been injured for most of the season and he has really struggled against the pass so far. GRADE: C+
Nick Collins: The Pro Bowler continues to shine and has become more of an all-around player this year. He still finds himself out of position at times but is becoming a real playmaker. GRADE: B+
Derrick Martin: The only good part about Martin is that we lost Tony Moll because of it. GRADE: F
Matt Giordano: Strictly on the Packers for depth and special teams help, but could become something. GRADE: INC
As a whole the Packers’ defense has been just OK. Their stats would imply that they have been close to a top ten defense this season, but that is hardly the case. Their defensive line has played well and the linebackers have picked it up as of late, but their inability to get off the field and not commit penalties has really hurt them. Special teams puts them in bad positions but it is still no excuse for why they have struggled to some extent. Hopefully Dom Capers’ 3-4 defense will pick up in the second half of the season and the Packers can rebound from their average start. GRADE: B-
Seven games into the season for the Packers, they stand at 4-3 and in relatively good position to make a playoff run. Their schedule matches up favorably compared to other teams and the talent is there for them to make it to the second season. In honor of their current record, here are four reasons the Packers will make the playoffs and three reasons they will not.
Why they will make the playoffs
1. Remaining Schedule
When one takes a look at the NFL playoff picture, it’s safe to assume the Saints (South), Vikings (North), and Cardinals (West) will win their respective divisions. The NFC East is a little cloudy with the Cowboys, Giants, and Eagles all in contention. In the North, the Packers and Bears stand at 4-3 and in the South the Falcons are very much alive as well.
The Falcons have the easiest schedule moving forward, playing just three teams with records above .500 the rest of the way. The Bears, Cowboys, and Giants play six teams with records above .500 while the Eagles play a brutal seven games against winning record teams.
As for the Packers, they play just five teams with winning records, but the best record they currently play is 5-2. They have gotten the Vikings out of the way and lost to a very good Bengals team. The Bears still have to play the Vikings twice, the NFC East is going to beat up on each other, and the Falcons have another matchup with the Saints looming.
There are games on the Packers’ schedule that are relatively easy wins (Detroit, Tampa Bay) and games which are probably going to be losses (at Pittsburgh), but the big games are the ones the Packers play against other playoff contenders in Dallas, Chicago, and Arizona. Those will be deciding games in the Packers’ season.
2. Aaron Rodgers
Football is a team game and everyone knows that. It’s impossible to win with just one guy, but if you are going to attempt to do so, start with a quarterback. Rodgers has been the highest rated passer in the league this season and has thrown just two interceptions, a big reason the Packers lead the league in turnover differential.
The Packers’ defense is not good enough for Rodgers to be average the rest of the way and expect to make the playoffs. If they earn a Wildcard spot, it will be because Rodgers gets them there. Question marks are still there of him holding on to the ball too long or being afraid to throw an interception but any way you slice it, he has played well.
Greg Jennings has yet to get going as a true number one receiver but we all expect that a breakout is looming. Rodgers has the poise and consistency to match his talents this season and it has really shown in his stats. Now it’s time for it to show in the win column.
Whether you blame Ted Thompson or Mike McCarthy for the Packers’ struggles this season, the fact is this team has a ton of talent that has showed flashes of greatness over the last three seasons. When healthy, they have the deepest receiving corps in the league, a top five secondary, a fantastic up-and-comer in Clay Matthews III, and a defensive line playing very well.
Putting everything together is a completely different story, but the talent is there for the Packers to make a run. If McCarthy and Capers can put their team in the best position to win based on the talents they have to work with, there’s no reason the Packers can’t win 11 games this season.
There are weaknesses on the offensive line and defense that we will get to later, but you don’t need to be the New Orleans Saints to earn a playoff spot. Those weaknesses will have to clean up if the Packers ever want to become Super Bowl contenders, but as of now there’s enough talent on the team to win games.
The best part about the Packers is that they have time to get better. While it will be on the go and during a potential playoff run, the offensive line is settling down and is at least looking more in unison than the first couple weeks. Rodgers has developed good chemistry with Jermichael Finley and his consistency is back.
Even more so, the 3-4 defense continues to be taught by Dom Capers and hopefully picked up by the players. Coming into the season, everyone spoke of how the transition to the new defense might take more than training camp and pre-season.
For the majority of players on the team, the defense is a new wrinkle that everyone is adjusting to. It’s not as easy as Madden to just switch the formation and have three down linemen instead of four. Time will allow the Packers to continue getting comfortable in the scheme, and hopefully better results will form because of it.
Why they will not make the playoffs
1. Team Rifts
It might not seem like a huge deal at first glance, but it is somewhat concerning that players on the Packers are going to the media to air their concerns. When Ted Thompson took over as GM, he explained how he wanted “Packer people” who were going to not only make the team better, but the organization better as well. This meant staying out of trouble and not throwing players and coaches under the bus to the media.
However, this has begun to happen more times in the last couple weeks than it has in the past couple of years. Cullen Jenkins, Charles Woodson, and Aaron Kampman have been spotlighted for this and seem to be opponents of the new defense.
Understand it was a big loss to the Vikings and played with people’s emotions after, but there’s no reason to call out a coordinator to the media. Capers is highly specialized in the 3-4 defense and knows what he is doing more than any of the players on the Packers roster. He is doing everything he can to make sure the Packers’ defense is playing the best it can.
If this kind of garbage continues, the playoffs will be a distant memory and we will have to start wondering who will get picked off the team next season. Relationships are huge in the NFL and a player must be able to trust his coordinator and vice versa. Let’s hope they resolve this soon.
2. Offensive line
Watch one, maybe two possessions for the Green Bay Packers’ offense and you will understand why this is such a concern. Musical chairs is the latest game to be played on the Packers’ offensive line and it looks as though Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher will get starts this week. Hopefully they can make things manageable for Rodgers when he drops back to pass more than three steps, but don’t count on it.
The theory of building an offensive line through the draft has fallen flat on its face and the Packers have no back-up plan…unless you count Tauscher. Unless the offensive line can pull something together during these last nine games, Rodgers is not going to make it through a full season. He can not keep taking the hits he has been taking and be expected to stand upright for 16 games. What’s more, he can’t be expected to put up these numbers if he has a man in his face three steps into his drop.
The run game has been average at best as it just feasts on the worst of the worst in the NFL, but then again the Packers seem to always be playing from behind against legitimate teams and must pass the ball. The Packers will play some pretty good pass rushers in the coming weeks, so let’s hope they find the answer soon or the Matt Flynn era might start a lot sooner than we all want.
It’s not fair to say the Packers do not have the hunger to win a championship or earn a playoff spot, but one has to wonder if they actually understand what it’s all about yet? They have failed their tests against good teams so far and do not seem to have the discipline that a championship team needs. Part of this could fall on the coaching staff, but youth might have something to do with it.
The Packers are the league’s youngest team and have a lot of youngsters seeing a lot of playing time this season. The veteran leadership is there and is helping, but the Packers still have a lot of players who have not yet reached their potential.
When fighting to the death for a playoff spot, being cool under pressure is important and the Packers might not have that this season. They have a head coach who has been to the playoffs and coached big games before, as well as a defensive coordinator who has experienced just about everything a football coach can.
Time will tell if the undisciplined, young Packers can grow up in time to not lose out on the playoffs. The penalties, especially the bone-headed ones (listen up, Johnny Jolly), will get a team nowhere. Unless that changes, the Packers will watch the playoffs from their coach instead of the sidelines.
A lot has changed since the Packers shut out the Cleveland Browns last week in Lambeau Field. Brett Favre is now a Viking, the Packers have new personnel on their roster, and players have jumped up the depth chart. Last week, there were five things to look for in the game against the Browns, so here are five more things to look for as the Packers play their second pre-season game.
1. How will first-rounder B.J. Raji look in his first live NFL-game action?
Two days before the Packers were set to play the Browns, ninth overall pick B.J. Raji ended his holdout and agreed to a contract with the Packers worth $28.5 million over the next five years. He reported to camp but did not play against the Browns, and will now see his first action on Saturday against the Bills.
With Ryan Pickett taking the majority of reps at defensive tackle, it is thought that Raji will man the right defensive end spot for the Packers. He began camp working with the second team but has seen reps with the first team and will get plenty of work during the game.
Raji spoke to reporters on the sidelines during the Browns game and said he had been working out daily to stay in shape, and with a week of training camp under his belt now he should be good to go. The Packers defensive line was outstanding last week but will face a much bigger test when they go up against a solid Bills’ running game.
2. Will Brady Poppinga step up or will another outside linebacker kick him out of a spot?
Despite the shutout last week, one of the low lights was Poppinga’s performance against the Browns. He looked out of place and slow on many plays and was outperformed by some second teamers. With Jeremy Thompson and Clay Matthews III both ruled out and seventh rounder Brad Jones questionable, this game will be vital for Poppinga.
Cyril Obiozor showed a lot of promise flying around the field last week and will make another push towards making the team when he hits the field tomorrow. While he is a little light, weighing under 250 pounds, he is athletic and very strong and attacks very quickly.
Poppinga will once again see reps with the first team because of injuries, but he will be on a very short leash the rest of the way if he does not perform.
3. Will Matt Flynn continue his success as the second string quarterback and will Brian Brohm show ANY improvement?
Once thought of as a potential number one pick, Brian Brohm has shown nothing during his time in Green Bay to believe he will amount to anything in the NFL. He throws behind runners, never seems to have control of the offense, and has happy feet even with time in the pocket.
While he is working with the third team on offense, the mechanics do not seem to be there either. As bad as it sounds, he did show improvement from last season and will hopefully do so tomorrow night. He threw two interceptions against the Browns but hopefully will be more poised in the future.
On the other hand, Matt Flynn has been excellent and given head coach Mike McCarthy more confidence if anything were to happen to Aaron Rodgers. Drafted in the seventh round in 2008, Flynn was not expected to make the roster but actually jumped Brohm on the depth chart.
Last week, Flynn completed five of six passes and had a few completions taken away due to penalties.
4. Speaking of penalties, will the Packers ever cut down on the penalties that killed them last year?
Last season, the Packers ranked second in the number of penalties called on them with 110, second to just the Dallas Cowboys. They did, however, rank first in penalty yards with 984. While the Packers’ press man-t0-man coverage was somewhat the reason for these penalties, it is something they must change if they are going to succeed this year. Moving to a mostly zone coverage in the new 3-4 defense should help.
Against the Browns last week, the Packers were penalized nine different times for 52 yards. Mike McCarthy made it a point to mention the penalty problem in his halftime interview, and it was clear he was not pleased. Even more so in the preseason, a surplus of penalties shows a lack of discipline for young players. While it will be expected for the first team to not draw yellow flags, it will be just as important for the younger players to do the same.
5. Can the defense continue its aggressive style of play and be successful?
For a team that lacked fire and passion in their defense last year, it was a ton of fun to watch the Packers’ defense flying around the football field making plays. Blitzes came from every direction, quarterbacks looked flustered, and the defense forced four turnovers.
While the Buffalo Bills are not going to make anyone forget about the Pittsburgh Steelers, they have a better offense than the Browns. While Terrell Owens will not play, Lee Evans, Marshawn Lynch, and Roscoe Parrish form a great offense that has scored 45 points in two pre-season games thus far.
While a shutout is not expected, Al Harris and Charles Woodson are expected to join Raji in their first pre-season action of the season. It will be interesting to see if defensive coordinator Dom Capers opens the playbook up even more to let the Packers roam free.